Thursday, April 26, 2018
Public safety

Former Pasco paralegal who spent clients' money faces new troubles

It took years of promises and deadlines and courthouse negotiations and money — lots of money — for Kristen Collins to get the deal she did, and it was a sweet one: To serve 18 months on house arrest and 10 years probation for swindling legal clients out of more than $72,000.

Now, it appears the deal, which was finalized just 15 months ago, could be in jeopardy after Collins, 34, of Holiday, was arrested last week on charges of violating her probation.

Collins lied to her probation officer about where she was working, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. She said she worked in marketing, but actually worked as a vet tech at Gregory Veterinary Clinic in Tampa, a report states. Authorities said Collins also admitted she didn't tell her employer about her probation status — even though such a disclosure was a condition of her probation.

"Her whereabouts on days she claimed to work in marketing are unaccounted for," her arrest report stated.

Collins was working as a paralegal for her former best friend, attorney Jessica Miller, when clients at Miller's Port Richey law firm complained of being cheated. The duo were investigated in 2006 and accused of stealing more than $72,000 from clients. Authorities said some of the money came from trust accounts they were supposed to protect; some was paid to Miller for services she never provided.

Collins and Miller spent the money on shopping trips to Macy's, Dillard's, Victoria's Secret, Walmart, and Publix, investigators said, and paid for a vacation to a South Carolina resort for the firm's employees and their families.

The women blamed each other. Miller was disbarred. Both pleaded guilty to four counts of grand theft. The victimized clients were mostly repaid out of a fund administered by the Florida Bar, but Miller and Collins had to repay the money to the Bar.

Miller brought the judge deciding her fate $250 she got from holding a yard sale. She was sentenced to four years in prison. Her estimated release date from prison is in March 2014.

Collins was prepared to testify against Miller at trial and brought $20,000 in restitution to court. At one hearings back in December 2010, Collins sobbed and begged Circuit Judge Michael Andrews to not send her to prison. Collins has four children and told Andrews that her husband doesn't make enough money to support the family without her. Collins begged to continue working and to serve jail on weekends. She said she would be in jail every weekend for five years if that's what Andrews wanted.

"I am willing to do anything to pay these people back," she said. "I will do whatever it takes to make them whole."

Andrews was inclined to give her 23 months in prison, but postponed sentencing. The State Attorney's Office wanted Collins to also serve prison time, but at a hearing in September 2011, one of the victims had a change of heart. Stanley McEwen wanted to make sure the money was repaid, so Collins was offered this deal — no prison time, just house arrest and probation — if she could continue paying restitution.

That deal could be jeopardized, however, if a judge determines Collins violated her probation. The State Attorney's Office did not return calls Wednesday to see what this new arrest could mean for her future. Collins, who was divorced in June according to court records, was released from the Pasco jail Wednesday afternoon. The phone number she listed on her arrest report is disconnected.

At one sentencing hearing, Andrews threatened Collins. The judge said if she got in trouble again, he would give her the maximum sentence:

Forty years in prison.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

Comments
Orlando man sought in Interstate 4 carjackings captured in Tampa

Orlando man sought in Interstate 4 carjackings captured in Tampa

TAMPA — A 43-year-old Orlando man who was being sought in a string of carjackings along Interstate 4 was captured on Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Majar L. Jones, 43, was considered armed and dangerous and the subjec...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Florida has one of the highest rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, study finds

Florida has one of the highest rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, study finds

Florida is among the top three states with the highest per capita rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, a new study published on Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found.From 2006 to 2016, the organization examined hit-and-run crashes in...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Hernando High student charged in school threat

Deputies: Hernando High student charged in school threat

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando High School student was arrested Wednesday after deputies said he threatened to get a gun and shoot people at his school on Thursday. The student, 17, was out on suspension from the school, according to a news release. He tol...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

GAINESVILLE — A 55-year-old Florida man is accused of pouring gasoline on his girlfriend and setting her on fire.Gainesville police arrest report says Roosevelt Kitchen was charged with attempted murder. He was being held Thursday on a $1 million bon...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Arrest made in stolen St. Petersburg car with baby inside

Arrest made in stolen St. Petersburg car with baby inside

ST PETERSBURG — A man accused of stealing a car with a baby inside earlier this week was arrested early Thursday morning when police spotted him in another stolen car. Rashad Webb, 19, no known address, was arrested around 2 a.m. after officers spott...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

TAMPA — A customer visited Wingstop on Sunday night to pick-up his order. What happened next was off-menu:Robert Williams said he suffered second-degree burns on his back and legs after a Wingstop employee threw hot oil on him during a scuffle.Willia...
Published: 04/26/18
FHP identifies driver in crash that killed

FHP identifies driver in crash that killed "smiling" teen

TRINITY — Friends said what they’ll remember the most about Lillia Morris is that she was always smiling.The 17-year-old Mitchell High School junior was killed Tuesday when a sport-utility vehicle ran a red light on State Road 54 and slammed into the...
Published: 04/26/18
Pasco deputies a hit on ‘LivePD’ television show

Pasco deputies a hit on ‘LivePD’ television show

TRINITY — On any given night, the A&E television show Live PD showcases law enforcement officers from a handful of cities across the country. It gives viewers an unfiltered police ride-along from the safety of their own couches and a peek into how of...
Published: 04/26/18
For some Pasco residents, recent Sheriff’s Office changes aren’t enough

For some Pasco residents, recent Sheriff’s Office changes aren’t enough

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco recently appointed a constitutional law advisor, saying he wanted to ensure good officer conduct and provide a new channel for citizen complaints.Two local human rights organizations, however, say th...
Published: 04/26/18
For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood High School principal Erin Savage has never planned a candlelight vigil. But this week, Savage must learn how to do so as her school mourns the tragic death of one of its graduating seniors.Bryson Welton-Williams, 18, died T...
Updated: 11 hours ago